On this Memorial Day, I wanted to honor a special place that I see alive in you, a place that lives in most who have served in the military. I see it as a place of knowing that there is something greater than the personal in life, something more significant than individual comfort and self-indulgence, and that there is something larger than ourself worth standing for, worth sacrificing for, worth fighting for, and, if necessary, worth dying for. I see that place in you and though I am not sure you have fully made peace with it–owned it–it is a part of the fabric of your very being. I know society doesn’t honor these things these days, but I do.
On Memorial Day, we honor those who have given their lives in service of that something greater. And it is important that we honor them, essential to the spiritual health of a culture, in fact. What is that “something greater” that inspired them to such action? Shall we call it patriotism? freedom? our way of life? justice? a dimmly perceived ideal? or did they do it simply for their children and grandchildren that they might know the life that the soldier knew. For whatever reason each sacrificed their life, and there were probably many, diverse reasons, having a day to focus on those fallen soldiers and their sacrifice allows the rest of us to step back from the immersion in our daily living to consider, anew, how precious, how dearly won the battle was and how dearly won our way of life is. It allows us a moment to inspire, to breathe in, the values of these men and women, to be reminded of that “something greater”, and to consider what transcendental values we hold to.
At the same time, I have always felt that it is equally important to honor those who lived as well. And that is why I am writing this email. These veterans, too, discovered what those who fell knew, felt it in their bones. These were good men, sensitive men, who chose to do something very hard to secure something precious for us all. They understood that there is something larger than themselves, they know how messy living and dying are, and so look to the larger for meaning and purpose in life. They know how frail and how temporary our time in this body is, and they know how easily it can be shattered. And therefore, they live with greater depth than those who never discovered these things.
And I have always felt that they know something beyond these abstract considerations. No matter what brought them to the uniform, whether lofty idealism or base considerations, when the bullets began to fly, when faced with their own death not as some abstraction but as an immediate threat, they understood in a way no philosopher ever could, that “something larger” than themselves. Abruptly abandoned are the abstract platitudes. Suddenly, life is precious. Perhaps, in those moments, it is understood that the warrior fighting alongside me represents everything I hold dear in life, embodies what was before abstract. Perhaps it is these moments that bring the transcendental into concrete realism. Perhaps this is the basis for the connection shared by warriors and why, no matter what the vision or strategy of the generals, warriors ultimately fight for each other and for those too weak to fight for themselves, that each might live to see another dawn, to look into the eyes of those they love, to hold another child.
I believe that the “sacred wound” of modern society is not found in the missing limbs, the scars–physical, emotional, and moral the warriors wear. I believe it is in the vacuity of those who do not know that there is something worth losing a limb over, something worth wearing a scar over, who don’t know the price of moral failure. I am afraid that failure to grasp the other side of life is the measure of modern times where a man and a woman stab each other over the finale of American Idol, or where, due to purely political considerations, members of our government failed to protect our diplomats in Benghazi; failed to rescue them when they were under attack, and ever since that night, have failed to get to the bottom of what happened, why, or brought to justice a single responsible party, jihadi or american. No warrior who has fought alongside another could have behaved with such callous disregard by abandoning those people; they would have mobilized into immediate and catastrophic action. And no society who honored their warriors would have tolerated such abhorent behavior by their politicians. It is a measure of the emptiness of our culture that not only is there no outrage at these things, but these actions are defended as reasonable and enlightened.
I think of the living veterans as the emissaries of those who have died, the voices of those who can no longer speak, telling by their words and example of a depth behind the superficial, the banal. I am writing this to you because I know that there are not many who understand, who don’t denigrate what you know and what the living veterans know. I know that what you know is not even welcome in polite society but has to be hidden away with the other shameful things. I am writing this to say thank you and to honor the sacrifices you made to learn what you know, to thank you for what you have done to live it, to acknowledge the difficulty of bringing what you know into life. I want to thank you and to honor the spirit of sacrifice that forever opens the door to an uncomfortable knowing of the true depth within living especially within a society that worships the surface reflection of things. This dishonors the memory and sacrifice of those who reached deep inside themselves to touch the blood they used to draw their line in the sand against the ever encroaching darkness. But whether you are honored or understood or not, you are needed, your gifts are needed. Thank you.